Click here to get a FREE 3-Day Meal Planning Guide

How much protein do you really need? (Protein Series: Part 2)

Published on: 03/12/2024

Knowing how much protein you really need can be key to helping you achieve your health and nutrition goals. There are different recommendations for protein whether you want to lose weight, gain strength, or prevent sarcopenia. Before we get into how much protein you need, let’s quickly cover some protein basics.

Protein is a macronutrient that your body needs in order to survive. Protein is found in food. Protein is made up of amino acids which are essentially the building blocks of life. There are a ton of amino acids in the world but only 20 amino acids that make up the human body.

Protein is vital for a variety of reasons. Protein is necessary for muscle maintenance and muscle growth. It helps you feel full longer. It is needed for strong nails and hair (that collagen stuff that people tout as giving them amazing hair…well, collagen is protein). Protein helps keep your bones strong and protein can enhance your metabolic function.

You can read more about the basics of protein in my All About Protein blog post.

Protein, Health, & Nutrition Goals

When you set a health goal and you’re thinking about how to achieve that goal, you should definitely consider how your protein intake can help. We’re going to go over three different health goals and how protein can help you achieve that goal but first, let’s discuss how to calculate your protein needs.

How much protein do I need?

There are several different ways that this question can be answered. However, if we just look at the basics – the bare minimum amount of protein that you need for your body, we want to aim for 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. I’ll walk you through how to calculate this number and I’d be willing to bet that it’s going to be smaller than what you are expecting.

  • Step 1: Get your weight into kilograms (kg).
  • Take your current weight in pounds and divide in by 2.2
    • We’ll use a 180 lb person as an example
      • 180 / 2.2 = 81.81
    • So our 180 lb person weighs 81.81 kg
  • Step 2: Calculate your protein needs.
    • Take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.8.
      • Since our 180 lb person weighs 81.81 kg, we would multiply 81.81 by 0.8.
        • 81.81 * 0.8 = 65.45
      • Our 180 lb person needs a minimum of 65.45 grams of protein per day.

That’s it. That’s how you figure up your minimum protein needs.

However, this is your minimum protein requirement. This minimum is how much protein you need to not be protein deficient. More and more research is coming out that is leading me to believe that this may actually be a low calculation of a person’s protein needs.

Protein & Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, it would be a really good idea to look at your protein intake. There are a number of ways that protein can help promote weight loss.

  • Protein will help you feel full. This is likely because of how protein impacts satiety hormones like GLP-1. 
  • Protein has a high thermic effect – without going into too much detail, the thermic effect of food (TEF) is the number of calories burned through eating food. Protein’s high TEF is because it takes the longest to break down and digest. 
  • Protein can help you maintain your muscle mass while you lose weight. Muscle is metabolically active (aka – a calorie burner) so holding onto muscle will help keep your metabolism up.

You might be thinking – that’s all great…so how much protein do I need to lose weight? The short answer is, aim for at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To calculate this, look at step 2 above and instead of taking your weight in kilograms and multiplying it by 0.8, multiply it by 1.2. This number may need to be higher depending on your activity level, especially if you’re incorporating strength training and you should definitely be incorporating strength training.

Protein & Building Muscle

Protein plays an important role in helping your body repair and strengthen your muscles. This action is how you build strength and increase the amount of muscle that you have.

The amount of protein needed for building muscle is a bit more than the minimum recommended amount of protein. While everyone is different, the general guideline for protein intake to build muscle is 1.4 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. It may also be important to consume protein right after a strength training workout. Eating 20 – 40 grams of protein around the time of exercising can help your muscles recover after working out.

Protein & Maintaining Muscle

Have you heard of sarcopenia? Sarcopenia happens as you age and it is the involuntary loss of muscle mass and strength. Sarcopenia begins around age 30 and it’s estimated that you naturally lose 3% – 5% of your muscle mass per decade. This may not seem like a lot but added up over time, the muscle loss increases your risk for falls and bone fractures.

Making sure that you eat enough protein is one of the strategies that can help prevent sarcopenia. You want to make sure that you eat enough throughout the day – get that minimum recommended amount no matter what – but also make sure that your protein intake is distributed throughout the day. Aiming for around 20 grams of protein per meal is a good base goal to set.

How to meet your protein needs?

It might be easier than you think to meet your protein goal. You’re likely meeting your bare minimum protein needs but let’s talk about how to meet a higher protein goal. The first step is to make sure that you are eating enough. If you’re not eating enough food, then it’s going to be pretty hard to eat enough protein.

A great way to see if you’re eating enough food and then to see if you’re eating enough protein is to track your intake. This isn’t the same as tracking your calorie intake for weight loss or for a diet. You have to have the right mindset to track from this perspective. It’s an abundance mindset instead of a restriction mindset. Tracking food isn’t for everyone, especially if you have a history of eating disorders. However, it is an effective way to ensure that you are hitting that protein goal. 

An Example Day – 125 grams of protein

Breakfast

Lunch

  • Turkey BLT Egg Life Wrap – 22 grams of protein
  • Pear – 0.7 grams of protein

Dinner

  • Italian Style Meatballs – 3 meatballs (Trader Joe’s) – 33 grams of protein
  • Garlicky Pasta – ½ cup (Trader Joe’s) – 4 grams or protein
  • Caesar Salad – 1 cup – 3 grams of protein

Snacks

References:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30678628/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644969/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/

https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8746908/

need help getting your protein in?

Friendly Nutrition’s Smoothie Recipe Book can help! All smoothie recipes are protein smoothies with at least 20 grams of protein. There are coffee smoothie recipes and recipes that don’t use a banana.

0 Comments

About Jessica
Jacqui portrait

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and trained FODMAP Coach. She started Friendly Nutrition to help you find balance, peace, and joy in eating, in your relationship with food, and in your relationship with your gut.

learn more

Blog CATEGORIES
Get a free flexible meal plan
Jacqui portrait

With this flexible meal plan, you’ll get a meal idea guide with recipes and a grocery list. And…you’ll be able to answer the “what’s for dinner” questions before anyone asks.

download the meal plan

RECENT POSTS

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This